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Injured and vulnerable, the 49ers (9-1) limp into their fourth prime time game of the season battling numerous injuries to key players.

Faced with a three-game stretch featuring three 8-2 teams, the 49ers welcome the Green Bay Packers (8-2) to town for what should be an electric Sunday Night Football matchup.

49ers defense gets a break from chasing down quarterbacks; now tasked with containing other offensive weapons

Having to face mobile quarterbacks such as Kyler Murray and Russell Wilson for three straight weeks, the 49ers defense was more vulnerable than ever. Aaron Rodgers is one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, and still playing at a very high level. By no means is this an easy matchup, but maybe it can provide a depleted 49ers front-seven a much-needed break from chasing down elusive quarterbacks.

49ers Defensive Coordinator Robert Saleh was asked about facing Rodgers and explained what makes the future Hall Of Fame quarterback so good:

“He’s been in it a while, obviously he’s a hall of fame type quarterback. He just sees the field. He doesn’t panic under the pressure, he has great pocket awareness so he can buy himself some time. If you can buy yourself some time and keep yourself under control, you can make the right decisions all the way throughout the play. It’s when a quarterback feels rushed and feels like he needs to get rid of the ball faster than he wants to is when all those mistakes happen. So, for him, with his pocket presence, in my opinion, that’s why he keeps the interceptions down the way he does.”

Complementing Rodgers on offense is an arsenal of weapons the Packers have utilized heavily all season. At wide receiver, they have Pro Bowl-caliber receiver, Davante Adams, as well as tall, speedy receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling. The Packers also have nice depth at receiver with both Geronimo Allison and Allen Lazard proving to be assets in the passing game.

At running back, the Packers deploy a two-headed monster of sorts with Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams. Jones can serve as a dual-threat running back in both the running and passing game, while Williams serves as more as a pass-catcher in the red zone. With the 49ers expected to apply lots of pressure on Rodgers, these two running backs may be a problem up front and over the middle.

The 49ers have had off-and-on struggles defending the run this season. Without their star linebacker Kwon Alexander, the middle of the field has been more susceptible to big runs, especially from opposing quarterbacks.

Tasked with facing another excellent running game, Robert Saleh addressed the 49ers recent struggles to stop the run, and provided some insight into what’s really been happening:

“You know what, sometimes, and I guess I’m looking from a biased standpoint, but from an efficiency standpoint, and I know this is going to sound crazy, but the run game is not as bad as it looks. I think [Carolina Panthers RB Christian] McCaffrey in the second half of the blowout had a 40-yard run. Cleveland had a 40-yard run. The backs the last two weeks have averaged less than four yards per carry. I think [Seattle Seahawks RB Chris] Carson had three-eight a carry, but the quarterback scrambles for 20, he has a couple of runs. The young kid got out on a couple of quarterback runs, but for the most part, we’re able to keep the back in check.”

Kittle’s (potential) return could have a huge impact

George Kittle is arguably the 49ers best all-around player. When a team loses its best all-around player, like the 49ers have the past two weeks, their absence will certainly be felt. Kittle is battling knee and ankle injuries, which he sustained against the Cardinals in Arizona three weeks ago.

For the past two games, Kyle Shanahan waited until the last possible minute to rule out Kittle. Last week Kittle made progress, but ultimately was not healthy enough to tough it out. This week, Kittle returned to practice (non-contact), and the feeling seems to be that he will suit up Sunday night against Green Bay.

Kittle’s absence has been felt in the passing game for sure, but Kittle also thrives in the run game. Kittle is a fantastic run-blocker, and the 49ers running game has struggled without him. Having Kittle back will not only allow Jimmy Garoppolo to throw to his favorite target again, but it should elevate the offense as a whole.

Kyle Shanahan had this to say about the team’s struggles to run the ball, and more specifically, if teams were purposely making an effort to slow down the 49ers run game:

“At times, but it wasn’t like Arizona did anything different in that game than they did two weeks earlier. At times they do and then at times they don’t. It’s an ebb and flow throughout the game. The healthier you get, the easier it is to run too. Getting Kittle back I think will help. There are a lot of things that do help, but that’s not all the reason. I think you’ve got to be able to do everything and hopefully with what we’ve done a little bit in the past games, the last couple weeks we’ll get some better looks in the run game.”

Packers defense can pressure Garoppolo like no other defense has this season

What excites me the most about this game are two teams with phenomenal pass-rushers facing off against one another. The 49ers have an elite pass-rush of their own, and the Packers will bring plenty of pressure as well. Both teams have above-average offensive lines, which will only make it harder for both front-sevens to get home on opposing quarterbacks.

The Packers have a nasty duo of Preston Smith (10 sacks) and Za’Darius Smith (8.5 sacks) who could give Garoppolo problems all evening. In the middle of the field, the Packers have linebacker Blake Martinez, who ranks second in the NFL in combined tackles (102).

In the defensive backfield, the Packers will deploy safety Darnell Savage, along with cornerbacks Kevin King, Tramon Williams, and Jaire Alexander. The Packers defense as a whole has recorded 16 total takeaways (9 INT’s, 7 fumbles), which is good for sixth-best in the NFL.

Jimmy Garoppolo discussed his thoughts on the Packers defense:

“They’re fast. They’re fast, the D-Line gets after it, usually four, maybe five guys, but they’re pretty talented across the board. There’s really no weak links in the defense. They’ll make you earn everything all the way down the field.”

Notes

  • The 49ers have suffered numerous injuries to key players on both sides of the ball recently. Kyle Shanahan provided some final updates on the 49ers injured players Friday. George Kittle, Emmanuel Sanders, and Deebo Samuel are listed as questionable for Sunday’s matchup. Robbie Gould and Matt Breida are listed as doubtful, while Joe Staley and Dee Ford are officially out.
  • Defensive lineman D.J. Jones missed last week’s game against the Cardinals due to a groin injury. He will be active on Sunday night.
  • Last week, wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders played despite battling a very painful rib injury that he sustained against the Seahawks. Barely able to lift his arm above his head last week, Sanders was a game-time decision, and ultimately played for three quarters. This week, Sanders should once again start, and it sounds like he’s feeling a lot better now.
  • With the number of injuries, the 49ers have sustained recently, they’ve been thinking about potentially using one unlikely player in the case they need some extra help on special teams.
  • Last week, backup tight end Ross Dwelley scored two touchdowns in the win over Arizona. Tying Kittles total in touchdowns on the season in one game, could there be some competition at the tight end position? (Joking)
Taylor Wirth

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